Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel Ati – Press Photo
CAIRO – 4 May 2018: Amid ongoing disagreement between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (EGRD), Egypt’s Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati is set to visit the Ethiopian capital on Friday to attend the 18th round of GERD Tripartite National Technical Committee on technical studies related to the dam.
The tripartite meeting scheduled to be held on Saturday will be attended by the irrigation ministers of the three Nile Basin states (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia). It aims to reach a consensus over the introductory report prepared by two French consultancy firms, BRL and Arterlia, which were hired to conduct impact studies of the dam on the downstream countries.
The committee’s 17th meeting held in November 2017 did not result in any agreement on the adoption of the introductory technical report. After the meeting, Abdel Ati said that although Egypt had initially approved the report which came consistent with the studies’ references on which the three countries agreed, the committee’s two other parties did not approve the report. They also demanded amendments that were beyond the agreed-on references in a way that affects the studies’ outcomes and made its content of no value.
“The reasons for the dispute over the introductory report is the so-called baseline, which sets Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water at 55.5 billion cubic meters and Sudan’s share at 18.5 billion cubic meters, and this is unacceptable for Ethiopia, which does not recognize the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement that specified water allocations to Egypt and Sudan,” said Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation.
However, an official Egyptian source linked to GERD revealed that Egypt had rejected the amendments requested by Ethiopia because they were incompatible with Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles.
Article 5 includes agreement on rules for the dam’s first filling and operation, as well as the expected time period for filling the dam’s reservoir with the Nile’s water. Egypt demands that this period be 7 to 10 years while Ethiopia insists on a maximum of 3 years.
Controversy over the Declaration of Principles
In March 2015, the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the "Declaration of Principles" in a step to put an end to the four-year dispute over Nile water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries.
The 10-principles declaration was the foundation that further agreements should be based on and was one of the first steps on the path of “understanding and rapprochement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Egyptian diplomatic sources pointed out that the current dispute was caused by the Ethiopian and Sudanese sides' misinterpretation of the Declaration of Principles. They said that Ethiopia is trying to twist the principles in a way that serves its interests without any obligations, while Egypt aims to limit the harmful effects that may be caused by the dam.
The sources expected that the coming visit will witness an end to the crisis, otherwise the situation will be more complicated.
GERD Tripartite National Technical Committee
Since the latest unsuccessful tripartite meeting in Cairo, there has been strong word coming from the Egyptian side.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi said that “Nile is a matter of life or death to Egypt,” a catchword that Sisi repeated during the inauguration of a fishery project in Egypt.
In 2011, Ethiopia started the construction of the 6,000-megawatt Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile River, one of the major sources of water that forms the Nile River downstream. Concerns have risen in Cairo and Khartoum over the negative impact the Ethiopian dam will have on their historic Nile water share, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters in Egypt only, in accordance with the historic 1959 agreement with Sudan.
However, Ethiopia stressed that the dam will not have any negative impact on Egypt or Sudan; the two countries opposed the dam’s construction from the very beginning. Even though, Sudan changed its stance towards the dam in 2013, expressing support for its construction, and claiming that it is going to serve the interest of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.
President Omar al-Bashir claimed that his country’s approval for the construction of the Ethiopian dam was driven by economic not political reasons.
Addis Ababa was pleased by Sudan’s support to the new dam project and welcomed Bashir several times on its territory. The Sudanese president's remarks about the GERD seemed to be a bargaining chip to secure Addis Ababa's support before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
In July 2017, Sudanese Media Minister Ahmed Bilal asserted that Egypt and Sudan share strong links and a long history of unending relationship, adding that Khartoum will not harm Egypt's national security. Bilal pointed out, in a press conference at the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo, that the filling of GERD’s reservoir should be applied in cooperation with downstream countries to minimize potential negative impacts.
In late December 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry visited Ethiopia to meet with his Ethiopian counterpart in a bid to break the current stalemate affecting the negotiations concerning the establishment of the Renaissance Dam.
On a similar note, Ethiopian Minister of Water and Irrigation Salehi Baqal revealed last week while reviewing the ministry’s performance before the Ethiopian Parliament that the negotiations on the Grand Dam are based on a notion of fair distribution of water, adding that 63.87 percent of its construction works were complete.
Egypt has previously announced its approval of the report prepared by PRL Consulting on the guidelines that should be followed when conducting studies on the effects of the dam; however, Ethiopia and Sudan rejected the findings of the report, crippling the continuation of the studies necessary for the establishment of the dam.
Since May 2011, Cairo has voiced its concern over how the dam can reduce the country’s annual share of Nile water. The real average consumption of water in Egypt is 105 billion cubic meters, and we get only 55.5 billion cubic meters from the Nile. The remaining 80 billion cubic meters are covered by the reuse of wastewater.
Egypt’s average water per-capita is expected to drop from 663 cubic meters per year to 582 cubic meters by 2025, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Addis Ababa, however, claimed that the dam is necessary for Ethiopia’s development and will not harm downstream countries.